Dutch Language Blog

A Dutchie By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet Posted by on Aug 14, 2013 in Culture

Jeff Lowe / Flickr Creative Commons

Jeff Lowe Flickr Creative Commons

What’s in a name?

When it comes to Dutch names, apparently quite a lot.

Take first names, for instance.

Seems the Dutch were firm believers in getting their money’s worth out of them.

First names would survive in one family for generations.

As it turns out, there was an intricate formula that kept them going.

If a parent were to die, the next child would be named after the deceased parent. And if an older sibling were to die, the name would be recycled with the next-born.

Otherwise, children were named after the grandparents. If the first three children were boys, the third would be given a male version of his grandmother’s name. Likewise, girls would get the female version of their grandfather’s names in cases where the first three children were girls.

In some regions, when they ran out of names of grandparents, deceased spouses, and dead siblings, they’d go through the list all over again.

As for last names, those weren’t officially recorded until Napoleon enforced the Civil Registration in 1811.

Up til that point, the Dutch had developed a number of ways to distinguish their family from others.

Sometimes they named themselves for their professions like De Bakker (the baker) or Smit (smith).

Surnames also doubled as descriptors. This is probably where names such as De Witte (the white), De Rooij (the red), and De Jong (the young) originated.

Lore also has it that the Dutch showed their disdain for the Civil Registration by recording humorous last names. There’s no evidence to support this, however, other than ridiculous names like Naaktgeboren (born naked), Niemandsvriend (no one’s friend), and Poepjes (poopies).

Many simply took their father’s name and added “son” to the end of it. My married name falls into this category. Jan (John) + zoon (son) = Jans zoon –> Janszoon –> Jansen. Sometimes it’s also written as Janssen. Rumor has it that the second ‘s’ was added in the case of illegitimate children.

This namesake trend had the tendency to get rather complicated. The Southern regions, for example, just tacked on names. So Jan Willem Abram Constantijn Alfred Frederik Naaktgeboren would be short for Jan who was the son of Willem, who was the son of Abram, who was the son of Constantijn, who was the son of Alfred, who was the son of Frederik Naaktgeboren. Whew, what a mouthful!

Others named themselves after their farms. Or, in some cases, their wives’ farms if  a farm was left to a daughter. She’d seek out a husband to help her keep up the farm and he’d adopt the farm’s name.

Surnames also gave away where you were from. These typically use tussenvoegsels (infixes). Some examples are van de, van der, and van den (all meaning “from the”); and te, ter, and ten (all meaning “on”). This would include names like Van der Wal (from the shore), Van den Heuvel (from the hill), and Ter Heide (on the heather).

When the Dutch emigrated, they often changed their names to reflect their Anglo-Saxon surroundings. Jan became John, Pieter became Peter, Dirk became Derrick, Karel became Charles.

The tussenvoegsels were frequently fused with the rest of the surname, turning Van den Kamp (from the camp) into Vandenkamp and De Groot (the large) to DeGroot, or even DeGroat. Sometimes the names were given an English spelling, as with Lohuis, which became Lowhouse. Or Nijhof, which morphed into Nyhoff.

This only just scratches the surface. If you want to learn more, genealogist Yvette Hoitink has some fabulous resources on her blog, Dutch Genealogy.

Just for giggles… King Willem-Alexander’s full name is:

Willem Alexander Frederik Constantijn Nicolaas Michiel van Oranje Nassau.

Go ahead and give that one a stab in the comments below. I’ll get you started:
Willem, son of Alexander, son of…

Or try to guess where Yvette’s surname – Hoitink – originates.
Is it…
a) a farm name
b) patronymics (named for the family patriarch)
c) location-based
d) a descriptor

I’ll let you know if you’re warm, cold, or right on the money.

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About the Author: tiffany

Tiffany Jansen is an American magazine and copywriter in the Netherlands.


  1. LBrakel:

    Does this make sense?
    “If a parent were to die, the next child would be named after the deceased parent. And if an older sibling were to die, the name would be recycled with the next-born.”

    This would only work if the woman were pregnant and her husband died. Did I read this wrong?

    • tiffany:

      @LBrakel It is rather confusing isn’t it. But, yes that did happen. Frequently. See Yvette’s comment here… she explains it much better than I ever could 🙂

  2. Alja:

    Hoitink is a farm naam. Especially in the eastern part of the country, there are many farms with names ending in -ink or -ing.

    My two older sibs were called after our grandparents (both granddads had the same name: Dirk)

    Myself and my younger brother were named for our (living) parents, and only the two youngest girls got “fancy” names.

    • tiffany:

      @Alja Love hearing these “policies” put into practice from Dutch readers! Truly fascinating how names come about!

  3. Rudi van Annie van Arjoan van moe Joane ;):

    It’s about the parent of the parent. So the grandmom or dad of the new born child.
    Now it makes sense! 😉

  4. Yvette Hoitink:

    I love this article, and thank you for the endorsement 🙂 I’ll not spoil the fun and answer your last question, but it may not be exactly what you think either…

    The most common case is when the remaining spouse remarried and then named his or her first child with the next spouse after the previous spouse.

    • tiffany:

      @Yvette Hoitink Thanks so much for hopping on here and taking care of that question, Yvette. I fould your blog so fascinating, I couldn’t NOT include it 🙂

  5. Irma:

    There is a lot written here that is not correct, for example; surnames in the south, in Limburg were long before 1811 officially recorded! Also the name giving of the children was not as described here. I think you have to redo your study for this article!

    • tiffany:

      @Irma Hi Irma. Thanks for your comment. If you let me know what sources I can find this information in, I will make changes accordingly. As a journalist, I do my due diligence as far as research before posting anything, but if there is contradictory information out there to what I found, I’d love to see it so I can create as accurate portrayal as possible

  6. Monkey Blanket:

    Clearly scanning the above topic numerous will like this since it’s real so it is great finding a webmaster thats blogging this for all to read!